The metaphors inspired by the animal world are so numerous in the financial sector that now they frequently pass unnoticed. Bears and bulls don’t require any particular explanation, but other animal metaphors are not quite as well known. Let’s look at some examples.
Fairly common is the use of black swan to indicate a rare or unexpected event. Although the metaphor was made famous by Professor Nassim Taleb in his book “The Black Swan. The Impact of the Highly Improbable”, the Roman poet Juvenal used this bird as a metaphor for something impossible. Not even crows, those prophets of doom (and not only in the world of finance), are able to predict black swans. And of course there are owls. Perhaps more rarely we hear grey rhino used to describe a critical event that’s highly probable but neglected. Often conflicting these two metaphors have returned with the coronavirus crisis given that “Many characterise the epidemic as a ‘black swan’, an event that is totally unforeseeable, but it could also be a ‘grey rhino’, an acknowledged but neglected threat”.
Always very contemporary is the adjective dovish (from dove) referring to a monetary policy, which indicates a conciliatory approach taken by the central bank. On the other side, we have hawks that favour an aggressive approach, particularly when applied to monetary policy. The most ferocious animals include those of the Nineties, when we saw the widespread use of tiger currencies to indicate those of southeast Asian countries; however, the concept of the economic tiger is still in use today and signifies “the economies of Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan which, between the 1960s and 1990s, promoted industrialisation, structural changes and growth commonly considered to be successful” (Bazzucchi-Di Tommaso, 2012). Talking about animals and countries, we mustn’t forget the frequent reference to the Dragon as a symbol of China, but it’s also interesting that the acronym chosen to identify the four weakest countries in Europe – Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain – is PIGS, not exactly a prestigious animal. The other animals that are not really positive include the elephant; because of its slowness it is often associated with institutional investors and, above all, with large-scale pension and insurance funds. Recently, the financial sector also began speaking about unicorns, referring to privately-held start-up companies with a value of at least a billion dollars, in other words truly mythological creatures.
Have you ever heard of the “dead cat bounce”? In the collective imagination, traders are often thought of as sharks and they are very well acquainted with this expression which indicates a temporary recovery that is more technical than led by fundamentals. Specifically, it occurs when the market has a brief resurgence following a severe decline, but the underlying trend remains “bearish”.
Undoubtedly everyone has heard of the sheep-flock effect, that cognitive bias that influences the decisions of investors and can lead to irrational reactions. But the herd effect indicates large numbers of investors who improvise so much that they are exposed to suffering considerable losses. Often used as synonyms for private equity, vulture or locust funds “swoop in” to a company’s capital to obtain maximum value and are the first to take flight when things go badly.
We end this review with a reference to Keynes’ “animal spirits”, those instinctive emotions that guide entrepreneurial behaviour. Keynes saw the economy dominated by the animal spirits of entrepreneurs who, because of the nature of the market itself, would not be able to foretell all the consequences of their actions and so their reactions are instinctive or based on partial and often misleading forecasts.
Of course the animals used in financial terminology outnumber the few examples listed here, but we hope we have given you an idea of the colour and variety of the financial vocabulary that professional translators like those at Arkadia Translations are able to convey in the target language. At times it may seem more practical to explain the metaphor, but maintaining the figurative language is essential if the style of the translated text is to remain alive and interesting.